For the past few months, the La Poste, the French Post Office has been stepping up its digital transformation with one aim in mind: to develop and enhance the customer experience. With smart letter boxes and 3D printers, the group is innovating constantly. One such innovations is Facteo, a smartphone that will be rolled out for all its 85,000 postmen and women by the end of 2015 and is designed to simplify their rounds and offer new local services.
So how do you manage such a huge deployment? How do you handle application development whilst ensuring data security? How to overcome the obstacles to change and provide staff training?
64,000 of La Poste’s postmen and women are already equipped; by the end of the year, all 85,000 of them will be doing their rounds with Facteo, a smartphone designed to simplify procedures and improve customer relationships. Muriel Barneoud, CEO of Docapost, the group’s digital transformation subsidiary, explains:
“Facteo […] is an amazing tool for getting in touch with your postman – for clients, but also for the Post Office to ask the postmen to perform additional tasks which will enhance the customer relationship. We could also provide other services, in the field of security, for example, particularly during heat-waves, or deliver other products than the traditional ones, thanks to this real-time communication, which addresses customers’ needs.”
Facteo: THE POSTMAN’S “digital SWISS ARMY KNIFE”
In addition to the conventional telephone, email and Internet/intranet services, Facteo also gives the postmen and women access to an enterprise store where they can find a number of business applications for signing for letters and parcels, re-sending letters and third-party collections.
Other features, such as the ‘alert’ button to locate the postman via GPS in the event of danger, or the ‘pass’ option to gain access to buildings, are still under development.
La Poste will also soon be implementing new local services called “Services Plus,” many of which are paid, such as home visits to the elderly, a courier service for delivering medication or cultural goods, electric meter readings, etc. This diversification is essential given that the group’s core postal activity has been steadily declining over the past few years.
innovation AND collaboration
Devised and tested in an exchange laboratory with employees and partners from academia and industry, Facteo is the product of an agile, collaborative approach: it’s the postmen and women themselves who chose the name of the device, for example. However, not all employees were on board, with some complaining of the change in their working conditions. The group plans to overcome these reservations by throwing in a personal consumption plan with 2 hours of calls and unlimited SMS.
The device was designed with the aim of “zero training”, and thus developing an intuitive, user-friendly interface. According to Michel Foulon, CIO for the postal division, most end-users’ questions are not about the application itself, which was designed in accordance with the three-click_rule, but about how to use the handset, as some weren’t familiar with smartphones. Staff thus learn how to us the device by asking for help from colleagues and friends.
UNPRECEDENTED TECHNICAL difficultIEs
With 85,000 smartphones, Facteo is currently the biggest company roll-out of devices in France. On the technical side of things, the IT department chose a standard smartphone as opposed to a rugged device, which meant they had to address the issue of resistance to often difficult weather conditions and battery life. Another challenge involved linking the Facteo back-office to La Poste’s historic applications: an additional 85,000 devices now need to be connected to the group’s ecosystem – which of course also involves platform management and maintenance issues.
The Facteo smartphones generate and transfer huge amounts of information, such as flash and signature data, all of which require security. Innovation Manager José Vazquez explains:
“It’s a critical point in the project. The further it goes, the more sophisticated the mechanisms are. Now, if a device gets lost or stolen, we can erase the data remotely, by resetting the phone. We’re also thinking about solutions to separate the professional and personal data on the phones.”
Having long seen it as a threat, La Poste is finally embracing digital as a growth opportunity, one which Facteo could spearhead. And the implications are nationwide: French Secretary of State for Digital Axelle Lemaire recently spoke of the importance of the Post Office’s role in the transformation of France’s economy.